Rangers steal Game 2

As I said after the game on Twitter, I expected the Cardinals to lose this one. Just not the way they did.

By all accounts Jaime Garcia should have been lit up by the Texas Rangers offense that can be easily considered to be the best offensively producing team against left handed pitchers in the entire major leagues this season. Instead, Garcia turned in what was probably his best pitching performance since a two-hit complete game shutout that he threw on May 6th against Milwaukee. It was probably in the top-3 of his pitching performances of the year, and if you consider the circumstances around it, quite possibly the best.

In his 7 innings on the mound, Garcia held the Rangers at bay with just 3 hits and a walk, along with 7 strikeouts.

He issued a leadoff walk to Ian Kinsler in the top of the fourth that nearly came around to bite him, but he caught Adrian Beltre swinging on strike 3. In fact, Kinsler, who walked and then made it to third on a single by Michael Young, was the only Rangers player to make it past first base until the 9th inning.

Cardinals fans felt like they had to be watching a replay when in the bottom of the 7th of a tie game, Tony LaRussa brought out Allen Craig to pinch hit. Ron Washington, going with the definition of insanity (repeating the same process and expecting a different outcome), brought out Alexi Ogando who Craig singled off of to drive home the go-ahead run in Game 1. With Freese on third this time and Punto on first after a pair of singles, Craig singled to right field again, scoring Freese for a 1-0 Cardinals lead.

At that moment, I felt like Craig had virtually clinched a shot at World Series MVP, if the Cardinals won the series, in just two at bats. It was going to be tough to beat a guy who was 2-for-2 with 2 game winning RBI.

Fernando Salas struck out Mike Napoli in the Rangers half of the 8th. Then Marc Rzepczynski came out and struck out Yorvit Torrealba (potentially ending the talk that he was the better option in Game 1?) and then faced Esteban German again, who grounded out to Albert Pujols.

In the bottom of the 8th, the Cardinals threatened to add an insurance run to the board. Mike Adams got Jon Jay and Albert Pujols to fly out to start the inning, but Lance Berkman followed that up with a single before Matt Holliday walked. Up to the plate came Daniel Descalso, who had been one of the Cardinals’ best clutch hitters earlier in the season, but Adams got Descalso to ground out to second base.

With the 1-0 game, Tony LaRussa went to Jason Motte once again. Once again back in the no-doubles defense (a throwback to the 2009 NLDS Game 2 where Holliday misplayed a ball that resulted in a Dodgers rally and victory), Ian Kinsler popped one up. It was just out of the reach of Furcal as he ranged back and Holliday was a few steps short of catching it. Had he been playing regular depth, Holliday catches the ball without an issue and we have 1 out in the 9th. Instead, Kinsler is standing on first base.

While the next batter Elvis Andrus looked at bunting, Kinsler took off and stole second base. That took the bunt off and Andrus wasted no time in hitting a line drive to Jon Jay for his own single that put the tying run in Kinsler at third base with no out.

On the same play, Andrus was able to advance to second on the throw after a couple miscues by the Cardinals that have resulted in a bit of a furor about it. Jon Jay’s throw was wide of the plate and Pujols had a chance to cut off the play and keep Kinsler at third and Andrus at first, but he missed the ball and it ended up rolling the rest of the way to Molina. More on the furor later.

That misplay ended up being the key ingredient in the Rangers win.

LaRussa went out to the mound to bring in Arthur Rhodes to replace Motte to face the left handed Josh Hamilton. Hamilton hit a sacrifice fly to Schumaker in right field that scored Kinsler and advanced Andrus. 1-1, tie game.

LaRussa went back to the mound to bring in Lance Lynn for his first World Series appearance. It was a good move considering that Lynn is far more of a strikeout threat than Rhodes and you don’t want them hitting the ball and scoring the go-ahead run. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Michael Young did. He hit a sacrifice fly to Jon Jay that allowed Andrus to score on the tag up.

Lynn then got Beltre to ground out to third base, but the damage was done and the Rangers were up 2-1 with Molina, Punto, and Schumaker due up in the bottom of the 9th with Berkman and Freese already out of the game.

With Rangers closer Neftali Feliz entering the game with his 100 mph fastball, the Cardinals spent the entire inning struggling. He initially struggled to find his command though, walking Yadier Molina. Watching the inning, I felt that Feliz never really regained his command, but despite that, struck out Nick Punto (who failed twice to bunt) and Skip Schumaker. Feliz would then get Rafael Furcal to fly out to right field to end the game and let the Rangers notch one of their own in the win column.

According to MLB.com, Feliz threw all fastballs in that 9th inning, none slower than 97 miles per hour. He is a true flamethrower.

After two games, the series will head to Texas and the Ballpark in Arlington where it’s now become a Best of 5 and the Rangers have home field advantage. The Rangers are the second best home team in baseball and the Cardinals are the second best road team in baseball. Arlington also happens to be an extremely hitter friendly park, so it’s safe to say that we’ll probably see more offense over the next three games than we have.

Finally, to discuss the aftermath of the play in the top of the 9th. This morning Jeff Passan wrote a piece about Pujols’ leadership after the loss, or lack thereof. Apparently by the time the St. Louis Cardinals’ clubhouse opened up to the media, Pujols had showered and left. So had Berkman, Holliday, and Molina. The four of them leaving their younger teammates to answer questions about what went wrong in a heartbreaking ninth inning collapse.

This experience illustrates exactly what I’ve been saying about Pujols and the Cardinals for the last few years, really since the 2009 season. Pujols is not a leader, well maybe a (9, 1) leader on the managerial grid. He is very much let’s his work ethic and on field performance speak for him. He’s not the type of leader who will help motivate the players around him. There are stars in sports who are great players, and then there are stars in sports who elevate those around them. Pujols is the former. A guy like Peyton Manning is the latter.

But the issue becomes as well, that as long as Pujols is a Cardinal and as long as he is the highest paid and longest tenured player on the roster, nobody is going to potentially step on his toes and step up to take that role. As we heard during the 2006 run to the playoffs, it was Jim Edmonds who stepped up to motivate the team. Edmonds was the veteran, he had the paycheck and the tenure to do it.

The second thing is that there is a seeming divide between the veterans and the younger players. Colby Rasmus was a big illustration of this to me. Pujols was quoted as saying that he’d talked to him maybe 2-3 times the entire time they played together. So basically, what Pujols just said is that he spends at least 162 days a year with 12 guys, they played together for two and a half years (almost 450 games) and they only talked 2-3 times? I know Rasmus keeps to himself, but really?

I have zero problem with Pujols snubbing the media. As many have said as we’ve had fan forum debates on it that the players owe the media nothing unless outlined in Major League Baseball rules.

Where my problem lies is that he left his teammates holding the bag, and it’s not the first time we’ve heard this story about Pujols.

My problem is that you can bet your tail that if Pujols had hit a walk off grand slam that he would have stayed to make sure every reporter’s questions about it got answered while he basked in the glow of success with that trademark grin on his face. On the other hand, when he fails and a misplay by him ultimately costs the Cardinals the game, he cuts out early and leaves his teammates to answer questions about the tough loss.

When you don’t have players who have each other’s backs, you create poison in the locker room. This sort of thing is the #1 reason why I feel the Cardinals have underperformed over the last three years. Team psychology during the season, and even more so the playoffs, is a critical thing. Passan asked a remaining Cardinals’ player about why Pujols left and he shrugged his shoulders and dodged the question about how he felt about it. I have a feeling his response would have been something to the effect of, “It is what it is.”

This kind of thing can be the catalyst that breaks a team. And if it does, that is all on Albert Pujols for hanging his teammates out when he should have been the one to accept his failures and man up to them to set the example for the rest of his teammates. That’s what being a leader and a man is all about.

I hope the team proves me wrong on Saturday night by going out and getting another win.

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